Uyghurs Are Languishing, Starving Under China’s Coronavirus Quarantines
By Salih Hudayar
Over the past month, as the coronavirus began to grab the attention of the international community, the intense persecution of the Uyghurs and other peoples of East Turkistan (the region that China calls “Xinjiang”) has become largely forgotten. Now, perhaps more than ever, the people of this region are at risk, with millions held hostage by a maniacal Communist regime in prisons where the virus can easily spread.
More than 3 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and other Turkic peoples continued to be locked up in China’s vast system of concentration camps, prisons, and labor camps across East Turkistan. On December 8, 2019 following the overwhelming passage of the UIGHUR Act by the US House of Representatives (407 vs 1) on December 3, 2019, the Chinese government claimed that “everyone has graduated from the vocational training centers.” However, the results of our satellite imagery research project indicate that there are so many potential facilities constructed in this region, at such enormous cost, that it would be unlikely that China’s regime would close all of them. And going by first-hand reports that we’ve received, there’s no information to indicate that any facilities have been closed.
Following the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the Chinese government responded with a policy of isolation in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. They suspended flights, train, and bus services from Wuhan to other parts of China. However, flights from Wuhan to Urumchi, the present-day capital of East Turkistan, apparently continued to operate. By January 23, 2019, the coronavirus had already spread to East Turkistan and in early February 2020 , a Chinese official interviewed by Radio Free Asia reported that information on the spread of the coronavirus in East Turkistan is a Communist Party “state secret.”
According to another Radio Free Asia report from February 6, 2020, medical professional and social media posts suggested that some 13,000 people from Wuhan may have entered East Turkistan amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Some 99 people from Wuhan were quarantined in a hotel in the city of Atush, which is more than 2759 miles from Wuhan, while the Chinese government gave orders to erect 2-meter metal fences throughout the region and prevented people from leaving their homes and neighborhoods.
Weeks passed by as millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic people were prevented from leaving their homes, where they have been left to starve. Videos began to emerge of desperate Uyghurs stating that they are facing hunger. In the video below a Uyghur man is showing yelling, “I am starving, my wife and child are starving.” Other videos showed similar desperate situations, and amidst the cold winter, people were burning their clothes, furniture and other objects to keep warm and boil water, as they cannot go out to obtain coal. From these heartbreaking videos, we can see that the Chinese government is not giving out adequate food rations to the people now imprisoned in their homes, nor is it concerned in the slightest about the survival of the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.
⚠️Video shows the dire conditions in #EastTurkistan as #China, for weeks, prevents people from leaving their neighborhood to obtain food in response to the #coronavirus. This #Uyghur man yells “I am starving, my wife and child is starving. Do you want me to kill myself for you?” pic.twitter.com/RajxFaZzmZ
— Salih Hudayar (@SalihHudayar) February 21, 2020
Uyghur doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals were rounded up and sent to Wuhan to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak there, leaving millions inside and outside of the concentration camps, prisons, and labor camps without any medical attention. Conditions in the camps are so dire that people are reportedly dying from torture, forced starvation, and diseases… most notably tuberculosis, something which the media and many human rights organizations are not reporting. In 2019, over 150 people died under unclear circumstances in one camp alone during a course of six months. And now, according to the data as of writing, there are 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. (While most of China’s reports come from provincial health authorities, China’s National Health Commission gets its data on East Turkistan from the XPCC, the Xinjiang Paramilitary Production and Construction Corps, also called the Bingtuan… which says a great deal about the paramilitary oppression that Uyghurs are living under.)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken away global attention from the humanitarian crisis in East Turkistan and has given China’s government the perfect cover to continue its brutal campaign of genocide. Unverified reports indicate that China is quarantining suspected coronavirus cases near concentration camps. If this is accurate, then the result could be disastrous and the millions of innocent people incarcerated in those camps are facing grave and immediate risk. Even if Uyghurs and other Turkic people are not dying from torture and diseases in the camps and prisons, there is a huge risk that they will die from starvation both inside and outside the camps.
Thus, it is past time for the World Health Organization (WHO) to immediately send in monitors and health professionals to help the Uyghurs. International humanitarian organizations like the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent should send in humanitarian aid. The US government and other governments of the Free World must raise this issue at the UN Security Council and call on China to immediately shut down all the concentration camps, prisons, and labor camps which are extrajudicially holding millions of innocent Uyghurs. The United States should ban Chinese researchers and students from visiting the US until reciprocal access is granted to this region for international human rights observers and public health experts. Most importantly, the Free World must adhere to promises of “NEVER AGAIN” and take all necessary measures to bring an end to China’s 21st century genocide in occupied East Turkistan, before this becomes a tragedy of historic proportions.
Salih Hudayar is a Uyghur American activist and the Founder of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM). He was recently elected as the Prime Minister of the East Turkistan Government-in-Exile (ETGE) and is currently pursuing a Masters in National Security Studies at the American Military University. You can follow him on Twitter @SalihHudayar.